Hi everyone,

As promised in this thread…

I wanted to blog about my experience with ForumCon, the first organized meeting for people interested in forum and community management. The event was held in beautiful San Francisco, California, inside one of Google’s numerous facilities. The host (Viglink) did a very swell job in marketing the event and had many attendees, ranging from big companies like Google and eBay to forum owners like myself.

I initially attended the conference both as a vBulletin staff and forum owner. Though, I’d place more emphasis on the latter. I’m a forum junkie, so attending this event was like going to Disneyland!

Myself, Adrian Harris (Senior Operations Manager of vBulletin and my boss), and fellow coworker Alvin Fong (VP Business Operator of Internet Brands) were one of the first people to arrive. From the start, the conference setting was amazing….

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We were met by Raymond Lyle, President of Viglink and organizer of the event. His hosting skills were top notch. He definitely made us feel welcomed and approached us with both a great level of professionalism and personal appeal. He introduced us to his coworkers and told us to “help ourselves” with free grub! As others began to arrive, we had a couple hours to network before the presentations began.

Where Purchasing Happens in Social Media
The first presentation was from Dan Gill, Founder and CEO of Huddler Inc. He spoke about the importance of “engaging communication” and “intent consumers” on online forums. He taught us about the 1-9-90 rule, Symbiotic Marketing, as well as how to properly analyze audiences for improving community. He also showcased strategies for improving site content to appeal to advertisers, which was great advice for forum owners like myself who were further looking to monetize our communities.<o>

What Customers are Saying About You!
The next presenter was Brian Solis, a revered sociologist and futurist who has had tremendous success with new media platforms. I enjoyed his presentation due to his background in marketing and his humorous slides to get the audience’s attention. He spoke about branding and how customers viewed companies in the social media realm. The main key point to his presentation was about utilizing social media platforms for increasing relationships with customers. I learned that to successfully market a product on Facebook and Twitter, you must directly engage with customers rather than just post updates.

Developing Forums for Community and Profit
The next person to present was Raymond Lyle, the gentleman we met earlier. He has developed large and successful forums and worked on both the media and advertising sides within communities. His presentation was about helping publishers grow and develop their communities and drive user generated content to bring value to both users and advertisers. He showcased one of his newest ventures, a vBulletin powered website called L4P.com. He visualized how he successfully marketed the site using a combination of celebrity power and hand signals.

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He taught us how to implement ads without bothering the users and spoke briefly about the future of online forums. He also explained why forums have not become “mainstream” like Facebook and Twitter. The reasons are that the overall design is still very antiquated, mostly started for passion and not business, forums are not “sexy”, never covered in media, big businesses are not backing it, known as a place for us forum nerds to gather, and other distractions like Facebook and Twitter.

After his presentation we were given a 20 minute break.

Content Marketing in Forums
The next presenter was Justin Choi, founder of PostRelease – a content marketing platform that enables advertisers to insert sponsored posts into forums. He shared some tips and insights on how to get brands to engage the community in a meaningful way that generates revenue for forum owners and value for the advertiser. He taught us how to integrate ads without actually making it look like an ad by “stickying” advertisement post in forums. He told us to become part of the conversation when opinions are being formed and purchase decisions are being made. He also mentioned the power of forums and their influence towards content marketing. People who contribute to forums are overwhelmingly more engaged in “influential activities” – both online and offline – than people who don’t use forums, according to a nationwide survey conducted by PostRelease/Synovate in November 2009.
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Growing Your Communities: Tools<o></o>
Up next was Nadia Aly, a community manager for Microsoft who jokingly compared her advertising budget with the company she works for. It was clear to all that she was not the winner. She quickly shared some tips and tricks with us for targeting business demographics and getting the valuable users into joining the community utilizing tools like TweetAdder, Facebook pages, and Facebook advertising. She told us that she spent roughly $700 on Facebook ads and received almost 10,000 new likes in less than 2 months on her Facebook page utilizing “targeted” advertising campaign.

Community Support at Google
After Nadia’s presentation, Brian Rose, Community Manager at Google shared his experience with customer support and how it has evolved from one to one email, to leveraging the full power of a forum platform. Brian’s presentation was very interesting because he provided an explanation of why some users contribute to forums. He told us a story about a user who had a knack for answering and helping people on Google’s customer support forum. When he asked that said user why they contributed so much of their time to helping people with clearly no beneficial return, the user said something along the lines… “Sometimes I feel bad after working, so to make myself and others feel better, I contribute a little of my time to helping others by posting on the customer support forums. It brightens my day whenever I can provide help.” This gave me great hope for humanity, Brian commented.

Lunch Time at GOOGLE!
After we’ve gone through the first half of the presentation, it was time for lunch. Google is known for providing their employees with free gourmet meals, and they did not disappoint. I had pizza, pasta, sushi, carne asada, cheese, rice, steak, and everything I can get my hands on! I went back to the conference room feeling sleepy and tired, though the high quality of presentations where enough to keep me awake.

How Forums Work with Marketers
The next presenters where Andrew Loos, CCO, and Scott James, Social Media Stategist, at Attack! a company that specializes in event staffing, field support, and guerrilla marketing services. They talked about how forum and community managers can make the right connections to strengthen their communities. They visualized case studies of what has worked and why, and provided ideas about how publishers can work with marketers and advertisers in a transparent way with the focus on connecting people to things they love in a targeted, authentic way.

Monetizing Forums with Mobile Apps
The next presenter was someone I was looking forward to seeing and meeting, Tapatalk founder Winter Wong. I’ve been utilizing his mobile plugin for a while now, though I could never get the plugin to work on my forum. I approached him during break and he politely suggested to update my files. The app is working fine on my forum now. His presentation was mostly about monetizing forums with mobile apps using iad and Admob. He showed us a few statistics which further emphasized the potential of making money via mobile ads.

Customer Engagement at eBay Inc.
The last presenter was John Bodine, head of US Community Development at eBay Inc. He shared an overview of what has worked to create an engaged community at eBay. He gave us 4 levels of engagement… Respond, Monitor, Encourage, and Resources. He told us that community metrics must tie in with business metrics and engagement will ideally drive business metrics. He closed the presentation with 3 words… Learn, Listen, Engage.

Short Break
So after John’s presentation we were given our final afternoon break. It was the same routine, speaking and networking with fellow forum owners and answering questions about vBulletin. It was definitely the most enjoyable part of the event and the #1 reason I attended.

Ask the Expert Panelists
The last list on the agenda was “Ask the Expert Panelists.” There were three panel categories, Forum Owners, Future of Forums, and Forum and Community Technology panel. Each expert panelist spoke about their given topic and the audience was given the chance to ask them questions. It was actually the most fun, interesting, and engaging part of the presentations because it directly involved the audience and answered questions that we all came there for.

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Forum Owners Panel
This panel consisted of Knick Jimenez - Founder of Luxury4play Forum, Andy Gilchrist – Founder of askandyaboutclothes.com, Jamie Vondruska – Founder of VWVortex, and David Bott – Founder and COO of AVSForum.com. These forum owners are currently at the top of their "game." They were asked questions ranging from how they managed their communities to what they do during their spare time. Andy Gilchrist mentioned to the audience the power of user contributions. He owns one of the largest apparel forums and utilizes it for providing support to his customers. David warned us about the effects of assigning moderators with a “reputation” from other communities. He told us to take note of user reputation when assigning them as moderators because it can hurt your community in the long run. When asked by one of the audience members if they would do it all over again, all basically said "Absolutely."

Future of Forums Panel
This panel consisted of Richard Weston Smith – VP Business Development and Strategic Alliances for SocialGO, Tezza Yujuico – COO, Athena East, Alvin Fong – VP Business Operations, Internet Brands, and Jery Orban – VP Business Development of Vertical Scope. From what I interpreted from their lectures, forums will stay consistent with the basic concepts, though with a few flares. There was a consensus that it was journeying through a more social networking theme.

Forum and Community Technology Panel
This panel consisted of Matthew Prince, CoFounder & CEO of CloudFlare, Todd Vernon – CEO & Founder of Lijit Networks, John Bodine – Head of US Development eBay Inc., and Jack Bafia, COO of Viglink. They spoke about upcoming technological advancement relevant to social media and how these same technological advancements will affect forums. An audience member asked why many people keep jumping onto the Facebook and Twitter bandwagon when developers should be thinking about developing their own unique platforms. No one in the panel had a clear answer. They all seemed to agree with the gentleman who asked the question. <o>

Wrap up and Networking
So after that final session, Raymond wrapped up and closed the successful event. We were escorted back to Palomino Restaurant where we networked again with forum owners. I had a chance to speak to many car enthusiasts during our walk to the restaurant. It was fun hearing how they turned their passion into businesses. Unfortunately, I had to catch a flight back to Los Angeles, so I didn’t get as much time to meet with the other attendees.

My Feedback on the Event
Overall the conference was AWESOME! If I was FORCED to provide constructive criticism, I would suggest more networking and engagement and less presentations. Maybe provide group discussions to get familiar with the attendees rather than just a handful of people. Not to say that the presentations weren’t great, I just think networking with fellow forum owners is the #1 reason most people attended the conference. Anyways, this event left me a great lasting impression about forum owners and has motivated me to not shy away from my nerdy love for the game. I’m looking forward to attending next year’s conference, which I assume will double next year. So if you’re reading this, make sure you purchase them early bird tickets! They will sell out fast!